The governments of Canada and Canadian province Alberta on Friday unveiled a plan to increase air, water, land and biodiversity monitoring of Canada's oil sands.
The Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring is designed to provide an improved understanding of the long-term cumulative effects of oil sands development, according to a statement released by Environment Canada.
The three-year implementation plan will begin this spring with increased sampling frequency, parameters and locations. It will also integrate relevant parts of existing monitoring efforts and will give the government and industry the scientific foundation necessary to continue to promote the environmentally sustainable development of oil sands.
Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said the program would be one of the most transparent and accountable oil sands monitoring system in the world.
"We challenge others in the international oil producing community to match Canada's commitment to environmental monitoring."
The Canadian and Alberta governments will jointly manage the program. Annual progress reports on implementation will be prepared for the first three years, with an external scientific peer review of the program and the end of the third year. Beyond that, a full external, scientific review of the new program will be conducted every five years.
Both governments are already committing significant resources to environmental monitoring. The energy industry is expected to provide increased funding that is needed to implement the new program, Environment Canada said.
Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers praised the plan, noting that a "robust, transparent monitoring system will help industry, governments and other stakeholders achieve the goal of long-term, responsible oil sands development and assist industry in delivering continuous performance improvement."
"We look forward to working with governments to ensure the oil sands environmental monitoring system is implemented effectively and efficiently, including integration and existing environmental monitoring organizations and processes in the oil sands region," Collyer commented.
Jennifer Grant, director of the Edmonton-based Pembina Institute's oil sands programs, said it's promising to see that the plan commits to transparency and accessibility and is based on technically-sound information. However, better monitoring is only one piece of the puzzle.
"The government's regulatory capacity and commitment to actually manage environmental impacts continues to lag behind the pace and scale of new oil sands development, and new projects continue to be approved even though we don't have enough information to understand the impacts. That is not responsible management," Grant commented.
Grant criticized the Canadian federal government for not taking needed action to protect woodland caribou herd in the oil sands region in northeastern Alberta. The population of woodland caribou in the oil sands region has steadily declined, and risks being eliminated from the oil sands region. Last month, the Pembina Institute reported that immediate protection was needed for woodland caribou herds from oil sands development, noting that abundant scientific evidence indicates that oil sands operations were contributing to caribou population declines.
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